|“The Bookworm’s Table” – Claude Rauget Hirst|
Inspired by a recent Slate article that asked prominent book people to name which books they don’t think are that great, I thought I’d turn it over to you.
Which books should be removed from the canon? Which classic books that everyone is expected to read just aren’t that great?
Speaking personally, I’m a big fan of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which I think is an amazing technical achievement. Finnegan’s Wake, on the other hand, just felt like gibberish.
What about you?
ED Martin says
Another vote for Moby Dick.
Steve Bradley says
The Catcher in the Rye. Every time Holden Caulfield used the phrase "if you want to know the truth" it made me want to track down Salinger's closest male descendant and punch him in the balls.
The arrogance of some of these posts is astounding. I mean, really. Everything by John Steinbeck? Anne Frank is a whiny little girl? Thomas "Harding"…? (that one made me laugh)
If I may quote Amanda K., because she put it quite well: "…all of these books have helped shape our standard of writing and reading today. That doesn't mean you have to LIKE them, but every writer should appreciate what our mentors had to offer."
Sorry to post three times, but hey –
Nathan asked! People are sharing honestly.
It's true that I shared about an arrow to the heart, but it's all in fun.
Let's not give folks too hard a time.
I started Moby Dick and appreciated the style and feel of it, but I confess I ran out of patience. I don't think it should be 'tossed out,' per se, but perhaps we should leave it sitting on the shelf, waiting for the people who don't mind taking multiple years to read a single book.
I haven't read Lolita, but the excerpts I've come across made me shudder and want to scrub my brain with soap. I do not care how well something is written; digesting filth for the cause of literature is not worth it.
The Bible (King James) — as literature. I don't have a problem reading it from a standpoint of faith, but reading it for its literary value like I was forced to do in my freshman Eng. Lit. class was an incredibly painful experience.
It's interesting because we didn't have much forced reading in my high school apparently, (Beowulf being the exception) but I've read a lot of these dislikes on my own time and if I didn't enjoy them, at least I can say I've read them.
Mick Montane says
Someone please explain to me how the question in this post is anything more than shameless comment-mongering.
The Desert Rocks says
Franz Kafka's The Castle
Haley Whitehall says
It is interesting reading everyone's choices. I definitely didn't like Lord of the Flies. That needs to go.
First, is there really an agreed upon canon? Depends who you ask, I'd wager. I haven't *liked* plenty of books, but I agree with @AmandaK and @CathyYardley, it's not particularly educating to only read what you like or even understand fully. Education is about expanding our minds, our views, our critical thinking skills. Good teachers help us learn to articualte why something may not appeal to us while showing the merits of a work. Lack of decent teachers? Find, or be, your own.
Linda Godfrey says
Agree with Nico on Anna Karenina – my most regretted time investment in a novel ever. Blast it from the canon!
I love Thomas Hardy's works and read them all over and over, and Moby Dick rocks like a Kraken. Call me Ishmael, too, if you like.
I challenge any of you writers to read again Catcher in the Rye and claim it is a well-written book. If I read it today, I would assume it was a first draft, sent off to a vanity press before it evolved into a readable novel.
Kudos to Salinger for coming up with the most ways to say the same thing on a single page. On every page.
Other Lisa says
What @Reina @AmandaK and @CathyYardley said. This thread's killing me too!
I will divulge a couple of books I couldn't get through though…
100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE — it's a measure of how I felt about this book that I had to double-check and make sure it wasn't called 1000 YEARS OF SOLITUDE — and Pynchon's V. On the other hand I LOVED The Crying of Lot 49, a book which really influenced me. Go figure.
Oh, and THE DEER-SLAYER. We had to read that and A. Conan Doyle's THE WHITE COMPANY in junior high. Two of the most boring books I've ever read.
Was not crazy about Scarlett Letter or Ethan Frome either, but that might have more to do with my age when I read them.
Jennifer M says
The Moby Dick comments make me want to methodically knock people's hats off (and it's not even November). I love that book, and I love the film versions of it, which have been all over the TV this summer. Gregory Peck's Captain Ahab is my favorite, but Leela in the Futurama episode, "Mobius Dick" is a close second.
As to which books should be removed from the canon, I'm torn. While I struggled through some of the books mentioned here, I also know that I became a better reader because of them. If I had to pick one, though, it would be OF MICE AND MEN, and that's only because I think Steinbeck's other stories are better. So please don't kick Steinbeck out completely.
I thoroughly second whoever said "Love In the Time of Cholera". The characters made me grind my teeth. Fermina Daza was continually described as being "spirited", an example of "telling" contradicting the "showing", because she was actually so damned passive I wanted to stab her in the eye with a sharp stick.
And lets not forget the sleazy MC and his string of lovers, including his 12 year old ward (when he was about 70). Why weren't reviewers concerned about the blatant pedophilia? Somebody please get the gasoline on this offensive, overwritten nonsense.
Margo Lerwill says
Looks like a few people need to take this post and themselves a little less seriously. All in fun. No one is seriously going to dig up your favorite author and stuff him and his books into a cannon, m'kay?
Robin Connelly says
I find myself suffering a strong dislike towards The Great Gatsby and anything by Hemingway. I also found Gilgamesh boring, though I think I would have been much more interested in the story as a whole if their hadn't been a rule in the book about everything needing to be repeated three times first.
On the otherhand, I think that most people should, at least try, read "I know Why The Caged Bird Sings."
My least favorite required reading:
Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham. Enough already about the poor guy's complex about his club foot. On and on and on.
I also hated A Farewell to Arms. An endless tedious soap opera.
I like some of the others that people dislike.
The Sound and the Fury was a revelation of how people's thoughts run.
But, much more recently, I read As I Lay Dying. The ending reveals that the whole thing is a kind of sick joke. Not a fan.
One reason Wuthering Heights is a classic is that, in spite of the silly gothic elements (which I loved, as a teenager), it depicts a dysfunctional family. Which was probably a first.
Great Expections. I know Charles Dickens is supposed to be a genius and all that but NOTHING good ever happens in that book and for me it just kept dragging ON and ON!
Barbara Forte Abate says
Oddly enough I don't recall the required reading from my own school days as well as the stinkers my four children have been assigned over the years. I'm sure it's their moaning complaints of having to spend their summer vacations tortured by the necessary reading of painfully dull and boring books. Always I am left wondering why teachers feel it's important to instill an actual hatred of reading in kids by assigning "Classics" such as The Scarlet Letter and Moby Dick. Particularly when there are so many excellent modern tales that would do the job of teaching love for literature so much more effectively.
Karen A. Chase says
Tess of the Dubervilles. It's more like Tess of the Boringvilles. I even tried watching the movie. All those hours of my life I'm not getting back…
Taylor, I have to agree. This thread is painful. "Loathe" "boring" "burning it" directed toward The Scarlet Letter, Heart of Darkness, Moby Dick, 1984, Gulliver's Travels… This is really depressing. I'm leaving a message, but I had to quit reading, and I won't be returning to this thread.
Amy Armstrong, MS, NCC says
I nominate Tender is the Night. I don't care much for Henry Jamesbooks either, but I have a special kind of hatred for Tender.
Bill Greer says
The Great Gatsby – I didn't hate it but it did nothing for me. I remember thinking, "This is one of the greatest books of the 20th century? Seriously?"
Anything by Albert Camus.
BTW, I liked Moby Dick.
Daniel McNeet says
James Joyce said it took him thirty years to write Finnegan's Wake and he expects the reader to take the remainder of his life to read it and understand it.
I think we should leave it in the Canon. I have read it and liked it.
Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina says
I liked so many books on that list: Don Quixote, Wuthering Heights, The Scarlet Letter, are just a few. It really IS subjective. I have a friend who adores everything Charles Dickens wrote, and yet when I read Oliver Twist I had such mixed emotions: interesting bad guys, interesting story problem, or idea of a story, anyway; but the world's most boringly angelic MC saved by cardboard characters and an improbable ending.
I wonder how often an inability to connect with a book is due to the way (or rhythm) a book is read rather then the book itself.
When I first read Pride and Prejudice I couldn't get into it and thought I'd never get through it. Then I change the rhythm of how I was reading it and it changed everything. I liked it and would read it again.
Just a thought. I don't have any books to add. I'm behind in my reading of the classics and some of the comments are making me less enthusiastic about some on my reading list.
I'm sure I'll get hate, but I despise Shakespeare, and the Canterbury Tales. Its just not grade school level material and in my opinion hurts reading more than it helps.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Maybe it's because I read it in high school and was too young to "get it," but I'm not exactly jazzed about books that are like abstract paintings and end up as "classics."
And I was the one girl in the school who loved books and loved to read. This one though…just…no.
I love this thread. I always thought there was something wrong with me that I hated Catcher in the Rye and some of the others mentioned here.
Usually when the names of these novels are brought up, it is with a pretention. And honestly, I think it's a bad case of the Emperor Who Wore No Clothes with a lot of these books. "Oh, you loved A Hundred Years of Solitude? Well, so did I." blah blah blah.
This topic is refreshing for a change.
I might get run down and shot for this, but anything by Jane Austen. I just can't stand her books.
Glory Lennon says
Perhaps it's because I see no point in being stoned to the point of incoherence but you can toss On the Road into a volcano for all I care and DH Lawrence's rambling Rainbow? I mean…what the hell was the point?
Dang, am I the only one that knows that Moby Dick is Nathan's favorite? Yikes! I noticed a common thread. I just skimmed the remarks and many of the same books were mentioned, which also happen to be required reading in high school and college. A correlation? And shouldnt we be a little forgiving to books we haven't read in twenty years? Just a thought.
I personally believe that force feeding classic lit to students is a nonstrategic approach to teaching. Teaching is an art and simply assigning "great" lit isnt enough. I'm not surprised that many books were quickly regurgitated.
But on to the original question…
I am a die-hard reader of the classics. If somebody says, I read classic book X and it was so dry and boring, I immediately put it on my mental reading list. I'm a prose junkie. I need each sentence to pull me into the next. When somebody learns that I love reading and persists that I read a Da Vinci Code-style book I am forced to confess that I am a Book Snob, I confess! I still haven't read everything by Dickens and Fitzgerald and McCarthy and Atwood! How could I possibly waist a moment's time on anything else?!
However, with that said, there are two highly acclaimed books that I would knock off of the pedestal they were put on.
The first one is The Catcher In The Rye. Holden drove me crazy. He whined and moaned and bothered me. Take any one hour period from my teen years and that hour would shatter Holden's idea of rebellion. Some good nuggets in there, admittedly, but it's no heavyweight.
The next book would be Neuromancer by William Gibson. It is not a classic in the general literary sense but it is considered the father of cyber-punk (or the matrix concept for you non-Sci-Fi readers). About half way through the torturous prose and who-cares plot I had an existential epiphany: I dont have to suffer! I can end this! So, with the greatest relief and joy, I put the book down. To this day I examine my inability to end my own suffering at an early time. Like page five.
Jen P says
Ooh I feel like we're on secret confessions.
First, all you voters for Hardy I will cross the Atlantic to collect up your unwanted copies of Tess or anything else. If you haven't yet visited his locations in England do if you can, and then re-read – you may see it in a whole new light. And Huck Finn, nooooo – just loved loved loved that story! Second, thank goodness I'm not alone in The Great Gatsby (sorry Nathan, I know)! Could not get into it, but may give it another go after a break. Personal taste vs great literary merit perhaps? I didn't really get why The Sea by John Banville was regarded such a recent classic. But as far as old-classics go, Alice in Wonderland, Don Quixote, Middlemarch and Vanity Fair. What's struck me reading these posts, is the number of greats I still have to read, and the enormous pleasure and lasting impression that so many of them did make on me as a teen-reader. It's less common that recent novels leave me with that something special, so perhaps I need to re-read some of these greats to distill their essence into something to aim for in my own writing now.
Fun post discussion!
J. T. Shea says
FINNEGAN'S WAKE felt like gibberish? You Sassanach! Oh wait, you're an American. But you clearly don't understand GuinnessSpeak, which the UN will soon be recognizing as an official dialect of English, or Irish, or something.
Far from from REMOVING books from the cannon, I can think of several I'd put INTO the canon, and fire as far away as possible.
Katie, it's been said if Dublin were somehow destroyed it could be rebuilt using ULYSSES as a guide.
But MOBY DICK haters beware! I'm sharpening my harpoon! THAT will be painful!
I haven't read a lot of the books on the list, so I'll keep my mouth shut about Tess, Moby Dick, and Catcher in the Rye.
But speaking as a big fan of Shakespeare, Taming of the Shrew ought to be allowed to die a quiet death. He wrote many plays far better.